Sunday, July 31, 2016

Zero-sum politics Part V: Leaders and followers if Trump loses

In Part IV of Zero-sum politics, I talked about how the level of Easton's "diffuse support" for the political system among Trump voters would be a limiting factor if Trump loses and tries to stir shit up because HRC supposedly rigged the election.  So, suppose the following:

1)  Trump loses (70% chance, according to Predictwise, as of writing)
  1a)  Trump loses by a big enough margin that we don't see serious legal battles like Florida 2000

2)  Trump accuses HRC of rigging the election (high likelihood, conditional on HRC winning)

3)  Trump tries to incite action in response (low likelihood, as I suggested in Part III because Trump is lazy, and more likely to "withdraw in disgust," to borrow the "oblique strategy" from Slacker, and say, "screw you guys, I'm going home," as Cartman would).

4)  There are low levels of "diffuse support" among Trump's voters, thereby permitting some form of action.

Suppose all of that.  That still isn't enough to guarantee Trump's ability to cause real trouble if he loses.  Why not?  The answer is your next homework assignment.  Dennis Chong, Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement.  Like everything I recommend, this is a great book.  Here's the gist.  Engaging in counter-establishment movements is costly and risky.  The more people there are involved, the less costly and the less risky it is.  Therefore, a movement requires leaders willing to absorb the high initial costs and risks, e.g. MLK.  You are less likely to be the one shot and killed by James Earl Ray if you are just a face in the crowd.  Leaders reduce costs and risks.

This is where any post-election, pro-Trump movement starts to fall flat on its face.  It has no obvious leaders.  Chris Christie will lead chants of "guilty" at the RNC, but there is no way in hell that he would absorb any personal risk on Trump's behalf.  He doesn't want to tear the system down.  He has power within it, and he wants to use it.  He either wants to be Attorney General, or the 2020 Republican nominee.  This was why I always said, back during the primaries, that the Republicans would never block Trump from the nomination.  It would tear the party apart.  The party is a power structure, and those within it have no incentive to break it apart.  Nobody within the Republican Party will fight for Trump after he loses.

And those violent dipshits at Trump rallies back in the primaries?  They weren't leaders in Chong-ian terms.  They were just drunken redneck fuckwits.  (I suppose they could have been meth-heads.  I wouldn't want to pre-judge).

That doesn't mean Chong-style leaders on Trump's behalf couldn't emerge.  It just means there aren't obvious people now.

If Trump were to lose by a narrow margin, then we just get some version of Florida 2000, and wouldn't that be fun?  But, that's a legal battle, and Chong doesn't really help us with that.  The protests there are the backdrop, not the main front.

Regardless, it is important to understand that Trump probably wouldn't lose gracefully.  The real constraint to anything bad happening as a consequence, though, is not diffuse support among his people, nor Trump's belief in constitutional order, nor any of that, though.  No, the real constraint is Chong.

What to watch for between now and November, then, is the emergence of Chong-ian leaders among Trump supporters.  If you start to see such people emerge, then you should worry.

One way or another, though, you should read Chong.  Great book.  Next up, what Republican leaders have at stake here...

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A quick note on Trump's response to the Khan family

The big buzz after the DNC was about the speech given by... must... resist... urge... Khan!!!  Damn it.

Anyway,  Trump's response was, unsurprisingly, foolish.  He attacked the family for the mother's supposedly compelled silence, with an insinuated but unstated reason.

One of two things must be true:

1)  Trump's campaign briefed him on the possibility of this coming up, and fed him the appropriate response.

2)  Trump's campaign failed to do so.

If 1, the obvious response is to evade, and simply say, "I'm sorry for the Khan family's loss, and I won't comment any further."

Since Trump didn't give that response, either his campaign didn't prepare him, demonstrating their further disorder, leaving Trump to improvise, or they tried, and Trump just couldn't resist a dig because he's Trump and that's just his schtick.

Social science buzz-word of the day:  "observational equivalence."  (Technically, that's two words).  That's when two models predict the same outcome.  Model 1:  Trump's campaign is a disorganized mess.  Model 2:  Trump is a jerk.  Observationally equivalent.  See?  Even when I'm messing around, I'm trying to teach social science.

And because I'm still an asshole...

Zero-sum politics Part IV: Levels of support among Trump's voters

In Part III of Zero-sum politics, I talked about the consequences of losing for Mr. Zero-sum, Donald Trump, and the likelihood that he would "exit," in Hirschman's terms, because of his lack of loyalty to the basic institutional framework.

Donald Trump has been accusing HRC of rigging the Democratic primary and stealing the nomination from Sanders.  This suggests he might not go quietly should he lose in November.  In Part III, I suggested that his most likely response is the lazy one:  withdrawing in disgust, as in Slacker.  Insist that HRC stole the election, and then go back to sticking his name on buildings that other people built and declaring bankruptcy for fun and profit.  Or, as Cartman would say...

It is, however, possible that he could take the more dangerous path, not accept the results, and encourage his supporters to do likewise.  Their response depends on what's next for your homework assignment.  David Easton, A Systems Analysis of Political Life.  Easton's great contribution to political theory is the distinction between "diffuse" and "specific" political support.  Specific support is based on tangible benefits that people receive.  We can, then, connect it to all of the zero-sum stuff that I've been talking about.  Diffuse support, though, is more about attachment to general principles of constitutional governance, blah, blah, blah.  It all sounds more eloquent when someone with a conscience, like Easton explains it than when a cynical asshole like me explains it.

Basic point:  Trump has no "diffuse" support for the system.  Mr. Zero-sum is all about winning.  He just wants to win the election so that he can have one more thing to brag about, and will likely insist that a loss can only be explained by a rigged election.  Should he lose and demand action from his voters, their response would be governed by their level of "diffuse" support.  The point about diffuse support, though, is that it is not governed by zero-sum rules.  A "republic," or "democratic" system, or whatever the fuck you want to call this country (no, I don't care about this one because the terms are so poorly defined, and yes, I have a Ph.D. in this, so fuck you if you want to try to lecture me on it) is set up in such a way that everyone can, in principle, benefit at some point in time.  That's not zero sum.  Tearing down the system, even peacefully, then, isn't necessarily beneficial, even to those who lose an election.  That's why we have peaceful transfers of power.

The point, then, is that diffuse support allows peaceful transitions of power, unless Trump throws a temper tantrum so epic upon losing, and his followers are in such a tizzy, and so devoid of diffuse support, that shit happens.

What might that be?  Well, let's save that for Part V.  Don't you want to read Easton now, though?

Again, Trump would probably be too lazy to stir anything up if he loses.  Probably.

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

Maybe just country-adjacent, but perfect for the current series...

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

Tim Kaine takes guff for the harmonica thing.  The harmonica is a great instrument.  Did you know that it is a jazz instrument?  I did.  I listen to Toots Thielemans.  You should too.

Zero-sum politics Part III: Exit for Donald Trump

Since even night 4 of the convention was a snooze-fest, let's just keep going with Part III of Zero-sum politics.

I have been writing about how Donald Trump sees everything in zero-sum terms, which makes him uniquely suited to electoral politics, but not policy-making.  However, that makes electoral loss unthinkable to him, putting him in a dangerous position should he lose.

In Part II, I recommended that everyone read Hirschman's Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, which described how those disaffected with an institution in decline can either voice dissatisfaction or exit the institution, with the decision mediated by loyalty to that institution.

Donald Trump will view the US political system as functional if and only if he wins in November, and contrary to his bombastic pseudo-patriotism, he has never expressed any true loyalty to the system itself.  In Hirschman's terms, what would "exit" look like for him?



Donald Trump has never actually been interested in politics before, and the easiest answer is the sour grapes answer.  Safe for everyone involved, and frankly, since Trump is lazy, this is the most likely result.

2)  Rage impotently.  Yes, I use the term intentionally.  If Trump loses, he becomes less interesting to the press, and the less interesting he becomes, the less capable he becomes of attracting attention.  So, while he may respond to a loss with incoherent frothing at the mouth about how the system is rigged and people need to rise up, it won't matter if nobody listens.

3)  Rage directedly at the Republican Party.  We are already seeing the party showing its seams.  If the institution from which Trump truly exits is the GOP, then we see something like the breakup of the Whigs.

4)  Claim that HRC rigged the election, demand uprising.  Can we honestly rule this out?  More readings to come.

A quick note on Clinton's Second Amendment position

In HRC's acceptance speech, she insisted that she doesn't want to repeal the Second Amendment or take people's guns away.  Liberals are constantly on the defensive about this one.

Now, where would anyone get the idea that liberals want to take away everyone's guns?  Hmmm...

Maybe it's that every time the subject comes up, liberals can't stop themselves from talking about how awesome it was when Australia took away everyone's guns...

So, liberals, if you don't want to be on the defensive on this point anymore, then stop romanticizing Australia.

Of course, nobody listens to me, nor reads this pretentious, little blog.  The next installment of Zero-sum politics will be up shortly...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A quick note on Donald Trump's "sarcasm"

Reagan was clearly joking, and it was funny.  I don't give a damn what you think of Reagan.  This was hilarious.  Trump now claims he was joking about asking Russia to hack HRC.  If we can't tell he's joking, it's not funny, even if it really had been a joke (which, c'mon...).

Reagan was funny.  Trump isn't funny.

Zero sum politics Part II: Donald Trump, exiting, loyalty and disloyalty

The Democratic convention continues to be BO-RING.  So, here's Part II in Zero Sum Politics.

In Part I, I talked about how a drug-addled Charlie Sheen, I mean Fergus Laing (see?  I didn't call him Tony Clifton) thinks only in terms of winning and losing.  Zero sum games, like elections, do not describe interactions such as trade in capitalist systems.

So, let's get this straight.  We have a trade deficit with China.  That doesn't mean we are "losing" to China.  That means consumers are getting cheap stuff.  Voluntary trade makes everyone involved in those transactions better off.  That's called capitalism.  Adam Smith.  Go read a fucking book, Donald.  If you can hold it with your tiny, tiny hands.  Yes, there are complications, externalities, etc., but Donald Trump doesn't know what an externality is.

Moving on...

Zero sum politics means there are winners and losers.  Like in elections.  Let's talk about what losing means in an electoral system.  I promised as reading list, so let's get one going.  Great book time. Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty.  You can't be an edumacated [sic] person 'til you've read it.  Go buy it and read it.

Basic point:  when firms, states, etc. decline, you can either whine or leave.  What mediates the decision?  Loyalty.

OK, how does Donald Trump define the quality of the political system?  Whether or not he wins.  He's Mr. Zero Sum.  What if he loses?  Well, he certainly does whine a lot, but in Hirschman's terms, there are two questions.

1)  How loyal is Donald Trump to the U.S., truly?

2)  What does "exit" look like for him?

On 1, less loyal than John McCain.  John McCain endured five years of torture and never broke.  Had Trump been there and been captured, he would have offered to turn traitor, and we all know it.  As an anti-goo-goo who thinks BCRA was one of the dumbest pieces of legislation in modern history, I'm no fan of McCain, but this isn't a real question.  Trump asked Russia to hack his opponent's email.  We are through the fucking looking glass here.

Then there's 2.  Maybe we'll save that for next time.  Now go read Hirschman.  Ph(ony) D(octor)'s orders.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Zero-sum politics: Donald Trump is tailor-made for elections and nothing else

Since nothing of interest is happening at the convention, I'll begin a more rigorous series on Trump.

You ever notice that Trump talks a lot about winning?  Like, a lot?  Social science time.  "Zero sum."  In order for someone to gain, someone else has to lose.  The classical zero sum game is "divide the dollar."  For every penny I gain, you have to lose, and vice versa.  So, it's all about who has the power to make the offer and who has the power to walk away.

So, if I can make a one-time, take it or leave it offer, I'll offer you a penny, and if all you care about is money, you'll take it.  Changing the outcome requires changing some structure of the game.

For our purposes today, the critical thing is that concept of zero sum, though.  In order for one person to gain, somebody else has to lose.

Elections are zero sum.

Almost nothing else in politics or economics is.  Creating economic growth isn't.  That's the point.  Adam Smith's central observation about free markets is that if I buy a loaf of bread, I care more about the bread than the money, and the baker cares more about the money than the bread, so we are both made better off by the transaction, even though we are both motivated by self interest.  Not zero sum.  Trade, contrary to Trump's central campaign platform, isn't about winning or losing.  This, more than anything else, shows what Trump is about.

Trump cares about some abstract notion of winning.  That maps well onto elections because there is a winner and a loser.  He wants to be that winner.  That notion maps well onto nothing else.  He has never cared about policy anyway, so that doesn't matter.  The messiness of his political language comes from the fact that he tries to take his central goal-- winning-- and map that language onto areas where it is inapplicable.

Charlie Sheen is running for president.

Only two points are worth mentioning about the convention last night

1)  Howard Dean has redeemed himself.  For those too young to remember, Dean was the Bernie Sanders of 2004.  OK, he was Sanders-lite.  So, while I detest Sanders with the vitriolic passion of an anti-goo-goo social scientist, Dean just kinda bugged me.  By making fun of himself last night and the "I have a scream" speech, he showed he can laugh at himself.  Well done, Howard.  You're OK with me now.  Obviously, that matters.

2)  The Democrats are still too timid to hit the Russia hack thing.  They deserve to lose this election.  Betting odds at PredictWise still give HRC about a 2 to 1 advantage, but that's just a testament to how historically awful a nominee Trump is.  Seriously.  Evidence continues pointing towards Russia hacking the DNC's emails to embarrass them before the convention, thereby trying to help elect a guy who has said, on tape, that he would abrogate our NATO obligations if Putin invaded NATO countries, having already tried to re-expand.  And the Democrats are putting on concerts with Paul Simon and Alicia Keys.  They deserve to lose.  They probably won't, but they deserve to.

As a social scientist, I wouldn't stake my non-existent reputation (nobody knows who the fuck I am) on the claim yet, but a party that doesn't make the charge at this point is guilty of criminal negligence.  The media will run with the story, but only if one party makes the charge forcefully.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

With Sanders' speech out of the way...

... the real danger is diminished.  Boos for HRC should peter out, and the risk-averse Dems will do the kind of normal, boring-ass convention that often put me to sleep last night (yes, really).

A bolder party would be talking about the increasingly probable notion that the DNC email hack was done by Russia because Putin thinks Trump will let him get away with more.  Yes, Trump really said he wouldn't defend NATO countries if Russia invaded them.  On fucking tape.  And Russia hacked his opponents' emails, and strategically released damaging info.

Why aren't Democrats aggressively pushing this?  Republicans would.  I don't get it.  I don't understand anything anymore.

Monday, July 25, 2016

As anticipation for the Sanders speech builds...

... I'll make a couple of quick observations.

1)  Sanders, unlike Cruz, actually has endorsed HRC.

2)  How does one follow Sanders, then, without actually voting for HRC?  Hippies and logic...

3)  Sanders pretended to campaign long after it was obvious he couldn't win, leading to my May 19 post describing Sanders as "more Tea Party than the Tea Party."  If his followers cannot accept a loss, we are seeing the fallout of Sanders carrying it way too far.

4)  As a follow-up to my semi-joke post on political legitimacy in Westeros, I did a more serious July 4 post on the most dangerous people in politics-- those who make arguments about how "the system is rigged" when they just lost fair in square.  Why?  Because peaceful transitions of power are critical.  Right now, Trump is making such arguments, but he is aided by the fact that Sanders made those very same arguments...

5)  If Sanders' followers are convinced that he lost because the system is rigged, it is because that is precisely what Sanders told them, and the emails just reinforce the paranoid bullshit that Sanders fed them throughout his deluded and impossible campaign.  Yes, the DNC wanted HRC to win, and yes DWS is a piece of fucking shit, but Sanders was doomed anyway.  Unfortunately, Sanders and his people never understood that last part.  Fortunately, the world now has conclusive evidence of the penultimate part.  I always saw through her.

6)  Now, here's the scary question.  Do you think that if Trump loses, he will accept it peacefully?

I'm serious about that one.

I'll start addressing it more rigorously soon, reading lists and all.

Three quick notes as tonight gets going

First, I admit when I am wrong.  Last week, I wrote that I didn't think Trump would get much of a convention bounce in the polls.  The polls are in.  The rules of political science have won, and Justin Buchler has lost.  See what happens when I try to out-guess the normal rules?  Let that be a lesson, kids.  Just do the readings, and don't listen to anything I say.  Wait, that can't be right...  Uh...

Anyway, comment the second...

If the normal rules apply to Trump, then they probably apply to HRC, which means that she gets a convention bounce too, and Trump's lead gets erased next week.  Maybe.

Comment the third...

If Cruz got boo-ed for not endorsing Trump, will Bernie get boo-ed for endorsing HRC?  Things may be inching that way since his people are particularly unhappy about that email thing, even though DWS didn't actually have anything to do with Sanders' loss.  This year is just beyond crazy.

At this point, though, I need to add my 2016 disclaimer.  It's been a while...

Not-quite-expectations for the Democratic convention

I won't quite pose these as predictions, but they seem like easy responses to the Republican convention.

1)  Turn "vote your conscience" into a rallying cry.  By far, the most embarrassing moment for the Republicans was the fact that when Ted Cruz said "vote your conscience," the convention boo-ed.  An insider could understand why-- it was about the conflict between the neverTrumpers, who wanted to disregard the voters, and those who respected the decisions of the voters.  But, to boo "vote your conscience" makes the party look wretched.  Sanders has already endorsed HRC, and he can turn that into a major point of contrast, and turn, "vote your conscience, vote for Hillary" into the convention's catch-phrase.

2)  Joke about the Melania Trump plagiarism thing, but don't overplay it.  Just keep the story alive, and let the late-night comics keep the story going.  This is a tough line to walk.  The Republicans have a history of over-playing their hands, from "you didn't build that" to impeaching Bill.  A few subtle jokes here and there.  No more.

3)  Praise McCain!  Draw the contrast with Trump.  McCain was a no-show at the convention, and we know why.  Positive words about McCain might help bring in some disaffected Republicans and emphasize Trump's general douchebaggery.

4)  During prime-time, hold up a series of quotes from books-- white lettering over black background, forcing the networks to keep them on screen.  Fifteen seconds per.  You know the ones.  Quotes like:  "Women-- you have to treat them like shit."  Sort of a clockwork orange thing.

5)  Montage of Trump praising HRC.  Just for fun.

Would any of this matter?  No.  See previous posts.  But, these strike me as the obvious things to do.

A brief comment on Debbie Wasserman Schultz

As my very, very few readers (and Russian botnets) know, I like to bash Sanders, but, ahem...

After the 1968 debacle, the Democratic Party adopted the McGovern-Fraser reforms, handing control of the nominating process to voters through the primaries and caucuses.  The voters preferred HRC to Sanders.  But, the DNC is supposed to remain neutral.  We should not be surprised that the DNC preferred an actual Democrat to a guy who refused to run for Senate with a"D" by his name, but seriously, fuck DWS.

And while I'm on the subject, that email about asking him about his religion?!

None of this makes me like Sanders.  I'm still an anti-goo-goo social scientist who can't take the old kook seriously, but...

Fuck those people.

Fuck 'em.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Strategic dilemmas for the Democratic convention

As the Democrats gear up for their convention, they face a dilemma.  Do they strike a more optimistic tone than the Republicans, or go full Daisy Girl?

Donald Trump's speech, like the convention, painted a bleak picture of a country in shambles, beset by unchecked enemies, with a Democratic nominee who might as well be setting the charges to blow the whole thing apart.  Conventional wisdom holds that optimism wins elections, and blessed Reagan won through optimism.  Of course, that ignores the fact that he also ran as the guy who could stand up to the existential threat of communism, which is, ya' know, kind of a bleak campaign theme, but conventional wisdom always has a whiff of bullshit to it.

My very, very few regular readers can probably guess where I stand on this.  Also, my Russian botnets.  Oh, Russian botnet!  You're the best bartender ever!  You listen, you never judge, you steal identities!  And when you think about it, that's like peddling mind-altering chemicals anyway.

Sorry, tangent.  Anyway, an optimistic convention yields HRC precisely nothing.  By the fundamentals, HRC should be losing this.  The economy is growing tepidly, Obama's approval rating is only slightly net positive, and the Democrats have won two in a row.  By Alan Abramowitz's "Time for a Change" model, which is my preferred model, the Democrats should be behind.  However, the Republicans nominated by far the most unpopular nominee since polling began.  HRC has maintained a small but consistent polling lead throughout the race.  Right now at RealClearPolitics, her lead is an average of 2 points.  Trump may have gotten a tiny boost from the convention, although it is hard to tell (I speculated earlier that convention bumps would be small to nonexistent this time around).  But, the only advantage HRC has is Donald Trump.  He regularly says racist and misogynist things, and praises people like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Un.  He knows less than nothing about policy, and is so obviously reckless and impulsive that members of is own party, like Mark Kirk and the guy who ghost wrote The Art of the Deal say he cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons.

Hence the daisy girl ad.  The Democrats have one advantage this year:  Trump.  If they don't play the Trump card, they deserve to lose.  If they delude themselves into this notion that brightness and sunshine and optimism and kumbaya and all that shit will win over voters by contrast of visions, then they aren't paying attention.

Trump is underperforming the political science models because Trump is personally unpopular, and it's as simple as that.  If Republicans had nominated Walker or Rubio or Jeb (sorry, Jeb!), HRC would be toast.  As is, either the Democrats try to exploit that, or they don't.  HRC only wins if the very, very few swing voters walk into the ballot booth and think to themselves, "well, HRC may be Nixon without the charisma, but Trump is Hitler without the 'genius' part of 'evil genius,'" mark D, have a shower and a stiff drink, and then cry themselves to sleep at night for four years.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Saturday, July 23, 2016

HRC and Tim Kaine

Wow, can you believe she picked Tim Kaine?!  I'm completely floored!  It's just...

No, sorry, I can't.  Clinton did exactly what everyone knew she would do because...

1)  Clinton is a normal, conventional politician who makes the safest choices possible at all times, except when driven by paranoia to use her own, private email server rather than the more secure government server...

2)  The one demonstrable effect of a VP choice is to swing a few points at most in the nominee's home state.

3)  Virginia is a swing state.

4)  Should she win, Kaine will be replaced by Democratic Governor Terry McCauliffe, rather than, say Republican Governor John Kasich for Sherrod Brown in Ohio, who was never going to be picked for that very reason.

5)  HRC had no need to reach out to the Sanders supporters because, as I have said, Sanders would get on board and endorse Clinton anyway.

6)  This demonstrates the central contrast with Trump.  Trump couldn't unify the party, and I knew that in April, which was why as far back as April, I knew he needed Pence (yes, I'm still harping on that!).

7)  This does NOT lock Virginia in for HRC.  It gives her a SLIGHT advantage.  Perhaps two points, by most political science estimates.  That ain't much, but that ain't nothin'.

HRC looked at what Tim Kaine had to offer in Virginia, and sang this...

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

I promised to use this for HRC too, and it even kind of sounds right with Tim Kaine's name, doesn't it?  Kaine/Cain?  No?  Fine.  Any excuse to play Jason Isbell...

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

This week's pick is a no-brainer.

Will anything that just happened matter?

Normally, candidates receive a bump in the polls after their conventions.  There are two reasons to be skeptical that Trump will receive a significant bump, even though reviews of the speech seem net positive, if only because he passed a low bar, with length and darkness being the critiques.  First, as I have been writing all along, more than any past nominees, both Trump and HRC are known quantities.  The conventions are when voters might start to tune into the election, and while politics junkies (hi!) know who Sanders and Cruz are, nobody else does.  Trump and HRC have been national figures for years, so the conventions change little, as will coverage of them.  Hence, probably no significant bump.  Second, the Democrats have theirs immediately after.  This is all a wash.

As I've been saying all along, this campaign is sound and fury.  HRC and Trump are known quantities, with little room for real movement in public opinion.  HRC has maintained a narrow but consistent lead.  That could change, but some event would have to intervene.

Issues, framing, elections, and Trump's speech

OK, you know where I stand on "issues" and presidential elections.  I'm a fundamentalist.  Elections usually turn on the "fundamentals."  The economy, and such.  Issues usually don't matter.

Last night's speech, though, tells us something important about how the campaign will proceed.  Trump will try to "frame" the election in terms of issues that he thinks will be favorable to him and the Republican Party.  Specifically, crime and terrorism, which he connects to the broader level of security.  Social science time!

First, let's have some terminology.  "Public good."  This one is from good, old-fashioned economics.  A public good is something that is "non-depletable" and "non-excludable."  That means 1) me taking advantage of the good doesn't prevent you from taking advantage of it, and 2) once it exists, you can't stop me from taking advantage of it.  

The trick is that if it is optional to contribute to a public good, no rational person ever would.  My contribution, as a lowly, underpaid university professor, has no effect on the level of safety in this country, and if we have safety, I can benefit regardless of whether or not I pay, so why contribute?  Same for everyone else, so no one contributes, so no police or military.

Wanna know what that looks like?  Somalia.

Safety is the primary "public good" that Republicans/conservatives traditionally want government to provide.  And, it encompasses both police/crime, and the military/national security.

What Trump is doing, then, is actually kind of interesting, in tying them together more closely than Republicans have done in a long time.  Republicans have been running on terrorism since 9/11, but Trump is bringing back crime, which Republicans haven't really talked about since the '90s.  Why?  Because crime rates have declined dramatically, and most have acknowledged empirical reality, and mostly moved on from crime as a major national issue.  Trump is bringing it back as an issue by, well, let's just say... cherry-picking some crime statistics.  Yeah, let's call that... interesting.

Built into this strategy is an idea that I have mentioned repeatedly, which is that there are certain issues about which voters are just more likely to trust one party:  "issue ownership."  Crime and national security are "owned" by Republicans, traditionally.  In social science terms, they're the same thing, though.

Of course, if the political science fundamentalists are correct, then this is all sound and fury, so to speak.  Nevertheless, there is interesting social science behind last night's speech!

And finally something goes smoothly at the RNC

After the Ted Cruz incident, I wondered whether the Cruz supporters and other Trump detractors would respond by heckling Trump, or otherwise trying to embarrass him during his big moment.  Instead, something finally went right.  No plagiarism charges (yet...), no other disasters.  Just a normal speech.

Well, except that the text got leaked hours ahead of schedule, demonstrating once again how amateurish the campaign is.

But, a few possibilities on why the Cruz people and other neverTrumpers didn't heckle.

1)  Conversion.

2)  Resignation.

3)  Fear, possibly as a consequence of the Cruz incident.

4)  They just weren't there.

We can go through them briefly.  1 seems unlikely.  People don't tend to change their minds.  Not the committed ones, anyway.  2 is a reasonable possibility, as is 3.  What I hadn't considered was 4.  There were delegates in attendance, sure, but the total number of delegates was just north of 2000.  The point of the "conscience" thing is that if they had voted their conscience, it might have been for Cruz, but the rest of the stadium was filled with people who showed up for the Trump convention.

So, I go back to Tuesday's post.  Trump didn't acknowledge his past apostasies, giving the distrustful conservatives a reason to heckle.  He didn't go stream-of-consciousness, like he does on the stump, demonstrating the impulsiveness that makes Mark Kirk-types not trust him, and while David Duke loved the speech, Trump didn't put Paul Ryan in the position of having to denounce it again.

Cruz rolled the dice and lost.

So did Robert Axelrod!  Should I say that this one is political science taking it on the chin, or economics?  Sometimes it's a fine line.  Anyway, never a dull moment these days!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cruz, Trump, boo-ing and reciprocity

On Tuesday, I speculated about what would have to happen for Trump to get boo-ed during his speech, and pointed out that he popped up briefly on Monday without it happening, which boded well.

Let's... revisit that.  Trump obviously has a lot of fans in the party, or he wouldn't have won the nomination.  But Cruz has loyalists too.  Getting boo-ed doesn't mean otherwise, and last night's debacle just rubs Cruz loyalists and the rest of Trump's remaining detractors raw.


Social science time!  It is what I supposedly do for a living.  Remember a little game called "the prisoner's dilemma?"  Econ 101.

The cops pick up two suspects for some crime, pretty sure they worked together on it.  They interrogate the suspects in separate rooms.  They try to get the suspects to rat each other out.  Cue cheesy music...

The cops don't have enough evidence for more than a minor conviction if neither turn on the other.  One year each, max.  But, if the crooks rat each other out, five years each.  If one rats the other out, the rat gets away scot-free, and the patsy does ten years.

What happens?  They both rat each other out, doing five years each.  Why?  Because if I think you're staying quiet, my best move is to rat you out (no time versus one year), and if I think you're ratting me out, my best move is to rat you out (five years versus ten).  The game is symmetric, so both players turn rat, and both do five years.

However, if we repeat the game, we can play a strategy of "tit-for-tat" cooperation.  We each stay quiet until one rats the other out, and then apply punishment.  Wanna read a good book?  Sure you do.  Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation.

Anyway, the Trump loyalists "defected," in game theory terminology.  They boo-ed.  Let's see how Axelrod holds up tonight...

Ted Cruz

Well, I didn't see that coming.  I brag about my prognostication powers, but not this time...

Let's take a quick trip down memory lane, and revisit another convention moment from a losing candidate named Ted.  This one killed a woman in a drunk driving accident and got away with it because he's American royalty!

The knowledge that he killed a woman in a drunk driving accident may slightly detract from the beautiful oratory, but man could that guy orate, and we still reference this moment today.  And even though he famously snubbed Carter, note the lack of boo-ing.

Ah, poor Ted Cruz.  I did sort of call it back in April that he and Trump could never reconcile after bringing their wives into the fight, but here we are.  Earlier this week, I speculated about the conditions under which Trump might get boo-ed.  It never occurred to me that Cruz would get boo-ed for not specifically endorsing Trump.

It is worth making some historical, political science-y observations, then.  The Democratic Party in 1980 was deeply divided between the remaining conservative Southerners and the northern liberals.  Head on over to Voteview, source of the blessed "NOMINATE" scores, with which we measure congressional ideology, and you will get the possibly mistaken impression that the Republican Party has been relatively unified lately, or at least more unified than the Democratic Party circa 1980.  And yet, here we are.

Is that ideology, or Trump?  Uh, I guess we'll find out.  But this shouldn't be happening.  I don't have an explanation.  I'm just pointing out that this is another demonstration of how weird this is.  I started this pretentious, little blog with a series called, "Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead," on all of the ways that Donald Trump was making my beloved discipline eat crow.  This might be another one to add to the pile.

Next, I just can't resist taking one more stab at some colleagues because, well, that's the kind of person I am.  (Title of the blog, anyone?)  Dave Hopkins and Matt Grossman get a lot of media attention for their work on "asymmetric polarization."  The gist of their work is that the Republicans are more ideologically extreme than Democrats because Republicans care more about ideological purity, whereas Democrats just care about putting together log-rolls between compatible groups.  Here's a link.  Krugman, Chait, and people like that love the Grossman/Hopkins stuff because it feeds their biases.

You know who's pure?  Ted Cruz.  You know who's not?  Trump.  You know who just got boo-ed?  Cruz.  You know why?  He didn't endorse Trump.

So, can someone please tell me why this Grossman/Hopkins stuff is supposed to be the key to explaining everything?  Oh, right, because it feeds the biases of Krugman, Chait, and the like.

For what it's worth, I've been beating this dead horse since February.  Damned zombie horses.

Speaking of which, I guess they're large enough to amplify.  Anybody read those Mira Grant books?

Sorry, tangent.

Anyway, like Kasich's no-show stunt, Cruz is gambling.  He's also mightily pissed at Trump because, well, they started in on each other's wives, so reconciliation was never possible, but wow.  Just... wow.

Oh, and then there's that thing that Trump spread insane conspiracy theories that Cruz's father was involved in Teddy's brother's assassination.  Maybe relevant to the lack of endorsement, and connecting this whole post...  Hey!  Look at that!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Rational and irrational neverTrumpers: Foreign vs. domestic policy, and long vs. short term goals

Now that Donald Trump really is the Republican nominee, the neverTrumpers have a choice.  They can either join the Trump train, they can vote for HRC, or they can stay home.  Or, they can vote third party, but that's the same thing.  So, does it really make sense to, as George Will asked them to do, grit their teeth through a Clinton administration and hope to beat her in 2020?

Maybe, so here's my attempt to separate the rational from the irrational neverTrumpers.

Domestic vs. foreign policy

Let's first distinguish between those conservatives interested in foreign policy and those interested in domestic policy.  On domestic policy, Trump will sign the Paul Ryan budget and appoint judges from the Federalist Society.  Will he do it out of sincere principle?  No, because Donald Trump has no principles.  Yesterday, I addressed the neverTrumpers who oppose him out of distrust, and might heckle him.  If they care about domestic policy, that's nuts.  HRC would veto the Paul Ryan budget, so why should the true conservative neverTrumpers care that Trump wouldn't sign it with a song in his heart?  HRC would nominate judges far to the left of Merrick Garland, so why should true believer neverTrumpers care that Trump wouldn't be... fantasizing... about Scalia while making his appointments?  The basic point is that Trump is not a true believer.  But, he would certainly govern in a more conservative manner than Clinton, so any neverTrumper who votes against Trump, or abstains because Trump isn't a true believer is irrational.  (Of course, voting is irrational anyway because your vote won't make a difference, but that's just me being unmutual again...)

Notice, then, where Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell stand.  I've written before that both of them need  Trump to win.  Paul Ryan can't survive divided government.  In fact, I kinda-sorta predicted Boehner's downfall in a paper presented at the 2014 American Political Science Association (available here).  The gist was that the combination of extreme polarization and divided government forced Boehner into a position in which he needed to split his own caucus, forcing a bunch of Republicans to break off and join Democrats to raise the debt ceiling with no concessions unless they wanted to be blamed for crashing the economy.  That couldn't be stable, and it wasn't.  Ryan resisted the speakership until Boehner raised the debt ceiling for the rest of the term, hoping for a Republican victory in November because he knew he'd be in the same position, and he knows he can't survive that.  Ryan needs a Republican president, or he gets Boehner-ed.

McConnell's position is slightly less precarious.  Slightly.  When Scalia croaked,  McConnell immediately announced that the Senate wouldn't even hold hearings on any Obama nominee.  Astounding and unprecedented.  And if HRC wins, what can he do?  Can he really back away from that and try a lame duck confirmation?  If not, can he maintain a four year blockade?  This gets really ugly.

So really, the domestic policy Republicans?  Trump is as insincere as it gets, but so what?  The alternative is HRC.  I hear Mick Jagger singing in my head.  I often hear voices in my head.  Maybe I should get that checked out...  Point:  domestic policy conservatives are irrational not to get on board with Trump.

Foreign policy is another matter.  First, the president has a lot more unilateral authority on foreign policy.  War powers, intelligence agencies etc.  And this is where we have to remember Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).  A lot of his opposition to Trump is certainly posturing.  He is a vulnerable incumbent in a blue state facing the most divisive Republican nominee at least since Goldwater.  But he's not necessarily wrong.  His critique of Trump is that the man is too reckless and impulsive to be trusted with the national security apparatus.  People like to make jokes about Trump launching a nuclear war to retaliate against somebody for making jokes about the size of his hands.  That is highly unlikely to happen.  I wish I could say that the probability is zero, but let's be honest-- it isn't.  In the realm of more realistic issues, put Trump's personality in the Cuban missile crisis, or similar situations, and human civilization might not exist.  Of course, Trump would say that the crisis wouldn't happen because he is so tough that nobody would test his resolve like that, but that's bullshit.  Let's look back at Reagan.  For all the supposed toughness of the Reagan administration, the Soviet Union didn't crumble in fear.  They built up their military, stepped up operations in Latin America, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, intelligence operations continued apace, and eventually, after Reagan, it crumbled mostly because centrally-planned economies are stupid and Karl Marx was a bloody moron who should be studied only so that we don't repeat the worst mistakes in history.  Santayana, and all that.  I love how Reagan worshippers attribute the fall of communism to their hero rather than the intrinsic superiority of capitalism.  Have they no confidence in their own ideology?  Sorry, social science rant.

Anyway, the basic point is that foreign policy decisions need to be made by people who are both intelligent and careful.  This is actually where that stupid plagiarism thing matters.  The way to compensate for Trump's ignorance of foreign policy and recklessness is if he surrounds himself with intelligent and sophisticated people.  If he did that, the Melania Trump thing wouldn't have happened.  Trump surrounds himself, not with the best and the brightest, but with sycophants, because he cares primarily about being feted.  That's what truly scares the Mark Kirk types.  The sincere ones, anyway.

Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the domestic policy types?  They want and need Trump.  They don't care that he is insincere.  They want and need somebody who will follow the Grover Norquist model of the presidency.

Foreign policy types?  They see through the Benghazi bullshit.  They know that Trump is reckless, and worry that he might do something epically stupid, whereas HRC, while way too left for them, could at least handle a Cuban missile crisis-type-deal without destroying humanity.  Trump couldn't.

So there you have it.  A big part of the rational vs. irrational neverTrumpers is about foreign versus domestic policy.


Long versus short term

This is where things get harder, so I have less to say.  Are you willing to lose in the short term for the long term gain?  After the 2012 election, the Republican Party did a post-mortem analysis, and the conclusion was that the party needed to address immigration reform and be more inclusive.  Trump moves the party in the opposite direction, both on policy and rhetorically.  His language on immigration and towards Latinos will make it virtually impossible for Republicans to make any gains among Latinos for a generation if not longer.  When Barry Goldwater ran for president as an opponent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act against Lyndon Johnson as the supporter, African-Americans went from leaning strongly Democratic to almost uniformly Democratic, and they never went back.  Latinos may be on the verge of that, and if the Republican Party becomes the party of Donald Trump while the Latino population grows, that's a big problem.

This is where the destroy-the-party-to-save-the-party strategy comes in.  Suppose you are a true conservative who hates HRC.  How much harm will HRC do in four years?  Then, how much harm will the Democrats do in every year after that if the party locks in the Latino vote the way they have with African-Americans?  If the only way to stop that is to take down Donald Trump, is it worth it?

This is the calculation of the neverTrumpers who go further than Paul Ryan.  When Donald Trump opposed the judge in his class action fraud case, first by calling him "Mexican" (he is US-born), then by claiming he has a "conflict of interest" because of his "Mexican heritage," Paul Ryan called it "textbook racism."  But Paul Ryan still goes along with Trump.  Why?  He has to.  See above.  His short-term incentives are too strong.  Those who don't have Ryan's short-term incentives might see things differently.

Republicans in California are still in the wilderness.  Pete Wilson won a tough reelection fight in 1994 by championing a ballot initiative denying services to illegal immigrants.  The consequence, though, was to mobilize Latinos in the state, and turn them strongly Democratic.  The Republicans have only won statewide races there since under weird circumstances, like Arnie's victory in the recall campaign against Gray Davis.

The danger for Republicans is if Trump comes to define the party nationwide.

So, there's my attempt to distinguish rational from irrational neverTrumpers.  Foreign vs. domestic policy, and long vs, short term.  It can be rational for neverTrumpers to stay that way if they care more about foreign policy than domestic policy, or if they care more about long-term goals than short-term goals.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Trump plagiarism incident, media narratives and defining moments

I was at a studio earlier this afternoon for a quick bit that discussed, of course, the plagiarism in Melania Trump's speech.  As I was getting set up, a phone call came in from a paper (USA Today, I believe), on the very same topic.  I posted earlier on this, and I'm not going to waste much space on the specifics, but just to recap before getting to the meat of the post:

1)  If a student handed in something like that, I'd have her dead to rights.

2)  If she denied it, I'd probably laugh at her.

3)  If she demanded a hearing, the Academic Integrity Board would have better manners than I would, but that's because everybody has better manners than I do.  You've seen the title of the blog, right?  (Does anybody even get the reference?)

Moving on, the real point of this post is the strange observation that media narratives can develop around an event that focus on a small and trivial element, blowing it way out of proportion.  Consider a famous moment from a 1992 presidential debate.  The embed has been disabled, so I'll just paste the link.

George H.W. Bush checks his watch during a debate.  Therefore he's detached.  Therefore, he doesn't care about the country.  Policy?  Intelligence?  Competence?  Screw all that!  Poppy Bush checked his watch.

Melania Trump's speech was plagiarized.  But honestly, politicians almost never write their own speeches anyway, and certainly not candidates' wives, so anyone who blames Melania is missing the point.  All candidates are plagiarists because none of them write their own speeches.  Plagiarism occurred, but we don't actually know who is the guilty party.

What does it mean?  It means that the Trump campaign is run by amateur fools, but frankly, we knew that.  This was a minor and meaningless event.

And yet, I'm getting call after call after call about it.  It is becoming the 1992 watch-checking moment.  And the Trump campaign won't let it go, because Donald Trump is pathologically incapable of letting anything go, which is amazing given the size of his hands...  See what I did there?  Bringing up a thing he can't let go...

Now, remember 2012?  Remember what Republicans tried to do with "you didn't build that?"  What do you think the Democrats will do with this?

Campaign narratives, and defining events blown way out of proportion... Have we seen it?  Given the number of calls I've gotten today, maybe...

What would it take for Trump to get heckled?

Yesterday, I speculated that the neverTrumpers might try to embarrass Trump himself during his acceptance speech.  Here, though, let's take that a bit more seriously than throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.  What would have to happen?

The neverTrumpers aren't just disruptive protesters.  They dislike Trump for a variety of reasons, and to see if, and how they might mess things up, we need to remember why they dislike Trump so much.

1)  Simple distrust.  Many of the neverTrumpers are just conservatives who look at Trump's record, recognize him for a fraud (which he is-- I call him Tony Clifton), and object to the nomination of someone who doesn't actually share any of their beliefs.

2)  Personality.  This is the Mark Kirk objection.  Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) claims not to support Trump because someone so reckless and impulsive simply cannot be trusted with the nuclear codes.

3)  Racism.  Speaker Paul Ryan responded to Trump's objection to the judge in his class action case on the basis of his "Mexican heritage," by calling it "textbook racism."  This contributed to George Will's decision to go further by leaving the party.  Along with that, others ditched Trump when David Duke got on board.

Those are the three main categories of neverTrumpers.  The problem is that a Trump speech won't give many opportunities for any booing for any of them.  Trump will give a basic, boilerplate speech, filled with standard conservative rhetoric, Trumpian catch-phrases, HRC-bashing and generically patriotic applause lines.  He'll play it safe in the speech, just as he did with the Pence pick, whatever else he does with the stagecraft.  Thus, even if the Category 1 neverTrumpers think he's full of shit, they won't have any specific reason to boo because he'll say the right things, nor will the Category 2 neverTrumpers have a reason to boo because he won't give one of his rambling, stream-of-consciousness tirades.  And he'll certainly steer clear of the kinds of overt racism that have gotten him in trouble in the past with the Category 3 neverTrumpers.

What does that leave?  His entry and exit.  He did an entry last night, and he didn't get boo-ed.  Maybe the neverTrumpers just weren't prepared for it, but it suggests that things will go smoothly for Thursday night.  A careful speech will leave the neverTrumpers few reasons to boo, and if it didn't happen last night, it probably won't happen Thursday night.

Then again, this year, anything can happen.

A quick note on Melania Trump and plagiarism

Since I'm a professor, I can't resist this one.  I've caught and "prosecuted" plenty of cases of plagiarism.  To be blunt, it's usually the dumb ones who get caught, so take that for what you will.  For those who want the details, I won't bother retyping it-- here's a link.  I'll simply say this:  I've nailed students for more subtle stuff than this, and I take special pleasure in it.  Will it matter?  No.  There's a long and proud tradition of plagiarizing politicians, and it's worth remembering that the whole "you didn't build that" line was a botched attempt by Obama to borrow a better-delivered line from Elizabeth Warren.  Oh, and Joe Biden plagiarized a speech by a British politician and friend named Neil Kinnock.  So, really, who cares except professors like me?

Somebody should do a history of plagiarism in presidential contests.  Just don't ask Doris Kearns Goodwin to write it.  You may not remember this shit, but I do.

Monday, July 18, 2016

What if Trump gets heckled or boo-ed by the neverTrumpers at his own acceptance speech?

One more what-if, and this is an important one.

Today, we heard one more death rattle from the neverTrumpers as the floor of the convention turned to chaos over one of those let-the-delegates-vote-their-conscience proposals.  Like a conscience has any role in politics...  Anyway, the result was predictably acrimonious.

Now, think back to March or so.  At the time, Trump's rallies were turning violent, and Trump himself was encouraging his supporters to assault protesters, while promising to pay their legal bills.  I was referring to it as Trump's "Altamont problem".  As I predicted (I tend to be pretty good at that, **cough, cough, Pence**), Trump cracked down on security, and the incidents dwindled, but that only happened because Trump could keep the protesters out.

This is the Republican convention.  Trump can't keep the neverTrumpers out because a lot of them have credentials.  A lot of them are voting delegates.

How confident are we that those people-- those same people who just brought the floor of the convention to chaos today over the conscience proposal-- won't do anything to embarrass Trump during his acceptance speech?

And if they do, how will Trump react, given what we know about his personality?

Let's be clear.  If this happened, it would be weird.  Not riot-level weird, but if our standard for civility is Chicago-1968, that doesn't bode well for Thursday night.

One seriously disruptive round of boos, and that becomes the headline.  Unless it's just this guy...

Contextual questions about the convention

As the Republican convention begins, the political context could not be stranger, and while I have posed a few questions so far, I will add a few more to keep in mind.  No answers today, just questions about what might affect how the convention plays out in the journalistic narrative, and in public opinion.

1)  Shootings of and by police.  I'll skip the humanistic stuff and go for the cold-blooded political analysis because, well, have you met me?  Political science buzzword alert.  "Issue ownership."  The concept is that certain issues are associated in the public mind with certain parties.  Voters trust Democrats on issues like education, and they trust Republicans on issues like... crime.  Sort of.  At least, that was the theory back in the '80s, during the "crack epidemic," and associated fears of crime.  The era produced the "Willie Horton ad," the Democratic Leadership Council, the rise of the Clintons, and their effort to push the Democratic Party to the right on crime & punishment, etc.  This has sort of been scrambled lately.  It is worth pointing out that violent crime, including gun crimes, have been steadily decreasing since the '90s.  Regardless, every sympathetic African-American shot by the cops on video pulls the politics one way (remember Newt Gingrich's statement on racism in policing?), and every time somebody shoots cops, that pulls the politics the other.  We have no idea what will happen, particularly as tension ramps up during the convention.  Watch closely.

2)  Turkey and other messes around the world.  Remember that issue ownership concept?  More uncertainty.  Terrorism is supposedly an issue "owned" by Republicans.  Does it work that way when Donald Trump can't find Turkey on a map and Hillary Clinton was in the loop for the raid that killed bin Laden?  What happens if matters deteriorate somewhere during the convention, and in what manner, and Trump says something characteristically Trump-like about it?

3)  Protests.  There will be fights.  How much will they escalate, and who will escalate them?  How will that be reported, and how much variation will there be in reporting?  The police here are requesting a temporary ban on "open carry," and that request has been denied.  Regular readers here probably got annoyed at some of my unmutual comments on the politics of gun control post-Orlando, but this could get really messy, and I have no idea what will happen.  Watch closely.

While I take over-the-top pride in my Pence-prescience, this convention has so many unknowable unknowns, to paraphrase Rumsfeld, that it is just worth trying to list what we can.  Buckle up.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

John Kasich's gamble

I've done a few press interviews today, and the hot question seems to be John Kasich.  The home state Governor is skipping the convention.  Yes, that's a big deal!

This is worth at least a quick note.  Kasich is making a big gamble, and it is worth revisiting my past comments about the Kasich campaign, which were... less than kind.  Specifically, back in March, I compared his campaign to the business strategy of the South Park underpants gnomes. This was when his plan was to lose every state but his home state, and somehow turn that into the presidential nomination.  Yes, I was harsh, but I'll revisit that.

Now, he's making a more interesting move, and it is potentially a shrewd gamble.  Kasich is setting himself up as the would-be leader of the told-you-so faction of the Republican Party if Trump loses in November.  To do that, he is refusing to associate himself with The Donald.  The trick is that he needs to distance himself from Trump enough to avoid any taint of Trump's campaign without alienating Trump's followers who are, after all, the dominant faction among Republican primary voters.  So, avoid speaking at the convention, but don't go as far as Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), whose reelection platform seems to be that he is the Republican who calls Trump unfit for the presidency.

Two challenges.

1)  If Trump wins, Kasich is fucked.  Trump may have very little history with the Republican Party, but he has the memory of an elephant when it comes to slights.  He is still obsessed with a decades-old article from a defunct magazine that called him a "short-fingered vulgarian."  Trump won't forgive this if he wins.  PredictWise currently gives that a 30% chance of happening.

2)  Even if Trump loses, the default within the Republican Party has been to explain losses by saying that the candidate wasn't a true conservative.  With Trump, this would have the virtue of being true, if not necessarily causally relevant.  That wouldn't push the party in Kasich's direction, since Kasich has been seen as one of the more moderate Republicans.  Yes, it's a cliche for academics to say, "I wrote a paper about it," but I really did.  Here's the link.

So, yes, Kasich is making an interesting gamble.  Maybe it will work.

To revisit my... harsh critiques, though, none of this would have a chance of working if he hadn't approached 2016 the way he did.  Maybe he was capable of more long-term thinking than I gave him credit for.  And sometimes, prepositions are fun things to end sentences with.

Expectations for the Republican Convention

Trump’s convention starts tomorrow.  A few quick notes on what to expect, and the consequences.

1)  Donald Trump will do things differently because, first and foremost, he is a showman.  Will it matter?  We don’t know.  Social science is about finding patterns.  Donald Trump breaks from all of our patterns.  The phrase I keep using in public talks is that with Trump, we are “speculating outside the bounds of our data.”  If we have no observations about Trump-like conventions from the past, then we have no direct empirical basis to predict their consequences.

2)  The reason Trump is allowed to be unpredictable here is that conventions are low risk/low reward events.  Short of a 1968-style riot, there is no reason to believe that there is much at stake, and 1968 is a special problem.  The riots didn’t cost the Democrats the 1968 election.  Rather, the Democrats were torn apart by the Vietnam War, resulting in a heated convention that deteriorated into riots under rules that were later changed, and the divisions that produced those conditions cost the Democrats the election.

On the other hand, remember 2008?  Remember how excited Republicans were about the great job Sarah Palin did at the convention?

In other words, conventions don’t matter that much.  They are low risk/low reward events.  So, while Trump was constrained to pick Pence as his running mate by intra-party dynamics, as I have been writing repeatedly, his campaign can let Olive be Olive, I mean, let Trump be Trump at the convention because the risks are low.

3)  Despite 1 and 2, it probably doesn’t matter.  I fall back on my political science fundamentalism that elections essentially turn on fundamentals like the state of the economy.  I remain primarily an adherent to the Alan Abramowitz “Time for a Change” model, based on GDP growth, presidential popularity, and the two-terms-and-you’re-out factor.  With a tepidly growing economy, a slightly-net-positive Democratic president, and two Democratic wins in a row, Republicans should be a slight favorite to win, but Trump continues to underperform in the polls.  HRC currently has a roughly 2.7 point lead on average over at RealClearPolitics.  Would a highly entertaining and unusual convention change that?  Perhaps in some hypothetical case, but not in Trump’s case.  Consider the Rubiobot.  Anybody sufficiently obsessed with politics to read this pretentious, little blog will get that joke, but most people wouldn’t because most people really have no clue who he is.  Conventions introduce candidates, who are generally unknown to most of the public, to a wider audience.  Trump, however, is already known to everyone.  An unusual, and entertaining convention conveys no new information about Trump to anyone, because everyone already knows that Trump can put on a show, so what does it change?

Just please don’t burn down my city.  I like it here.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A bit of shameless self-promotion

First, I'll be on MSNBC tomorrow morning, sometime between 9:30 and 10:00 AM EDT.  That might delay tomorrow morning's post.  We'll see.

Also, C-SPAN did a book interview with me when they came through town recently.  My first book was about elections, how we think about them, and how we should think about them.  The gist is that elections aren't markets.  They are hiring and firing mechanisms.  You don't flip a coin to decide whether or not to fire someone, so elections that are essentially coin-tosses are stupid.  Therefore, competitive elections are bad.  Yes, I stretched that into a book and got tenure out of it because academia is awesome!  If you want to watch something truly soporific, here's the link.  And if you want to line my pockets and buy the book, here's the link for Amazon.

And because this was a great show...

What it means that Trump tried to back out of choosing Pence

I won’t claim prescience on the Turkey coup from my Tuesday music post, but I will remind myopic Americans to pay attention before turning back to my personal obsessions, which I keep in perspective.

That is, Donald Trump.  I love the fact that he tried to back out of the Pence pick, even after the news leaked.  First, it demonstrates the central point of my article over at The Conversation, which is his lack of agency.  Despite his bluster, Trump was constrained by the party disunity he creates to choose Pence.  He doesn’t push people around, he gets pushed around, precisely because he tries to push people around.  Green lanternism backfires.

Where this gets interesting for me is that I have repeatedly referenced Nelson W. Polsby’s Consequences of Party Reform as a model of what a Trump administration might look like because Trump, like Jimmy Carter, is an outsider who has trouble with his party (see here and here, for example, but there are probably more scattered throughout the blog).  The point of Pence, and the reason I predicted him in April, was that he would assuage fears that Trump still needs to assuage among Republican leaders.

In my Conversation piece, I pose Pence as a potential Cheney figure, and that suggests a difference between a Trump administration and a Carter administration.  Cheney, like Mondale, was an insider.  The difference was that Bush let Cheney run the show.  Carter didn't delegate to Mondale.  Would Carter’s problems have been as serious had he done so?  Given my reading of Polsby, I don’t know, and alas, Nelson is no longer around to ask.  The counter-argument is that the Democratic Party was much less unified under Carter for other reasons anyway.  Still, one can easily imagine Trump delegating out of sheer laziness, which would help him with Pence running the show as a Cheney figure.

The distinction, then, between a Trump administration and the problems Polsby observed in a Carter administration would be between those issues in which Trump attempts to insert himself, logo-like, and those in which he allows Pence to run the show.

Of course, that assumes Trump can win.  PredictWise currently gives him around a 30% chance.

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

Yes, I'll use this when HRC makes her pick too.  It's too good not to.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Article on Pence at The Conversation

And finally, here's the link for my article on Pence at The Conversation.  This came to mind, but I suspect that such a highfalutin' organization wouldn't want a link to it.

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

Yup, I'm goin' there


Will/Would Pence help Trump?

To borrow from The Donald, thanks for congratulating me for being right about Pence.

Yup, it looks like I called it, way back on April 10.  Of course, the circumstances under which Trump used that phrasing are eerily similar to those that have delayed the formal announcement, hence my poor taste, but the very, very few readers of The Unmutual Political Blog have come to expect poor taste and pretentiousness.  And jazz, which will go up later today, of course, but that's just more pretentiousness.

Anyway, once the formal announcement is made, I should have a piece up at The Conversation about why Trump was constrained to choose Pence by disunity within the party.  The gist is that for all Trump's bluster, he doesn't have much agency.  I'll link to it when it goes up.  Unless Trump picks someone else, in which case I will dine on braised crow, perhaps with some asparagus in garlic olive oil.  What kind of wine goes with crow?  Maybe I'll ask the guys who wrote The Party Decides...

What the piece doesn't cover is whether or not Pence will matter.

He won't.  As I have written before here when focusing on HRC and her considerations, vice presidential nominees don't matter very much, according to the political science research.  Nominees can add a few points at most in their home states, but that's about it, and a Republican who can't win Indiana is toast anyway.  Whatever problems Trump is really having, Pence won't help.

Let's go through this in more careful, social science-y terms.  That is, after all, supposedly what I do.  The basic problem is a disconnect between where Trump is in the polls and where he should be.  As I keep writing, my reference model for presidential elections is Alan Abramowitz's "Time for a Change" model, based on GDP growth, presidential approval, and whether or not one party has won two in a row.  The Democrats have won two in a row, the economy is growing tepidly, and Obama is slightly net-positive.  According to Abramowitz, that puts Republicans at a slight favorite to win, although Alan himself thinks HRC will win.  The polls back Alan's guess rather than his model.

And the polls do too. Over at RealClearPolitics, HRC's lead in the polling average is down to 2.7 points on average, which is down noticeably from the 4 to 5 point range I have been seeing for a while, but still a lead.  So, Trump is under-performing.

The trouble is, why?  The Pence pick is based on the premise that he needs to shore up his base, but that probably isn't actually true.  As you will see when my piece in The Conversation goes up, the disunity I see in the Republican Party is mostly at the elite level, among people like George Will.

Do I have any evidence that Republican voters will abandon Trump?  Nope.  I got nothin'.  Because I think they will mostly stick with him.  Voters are partisans, and they vote their party.  The piece over at The Conversation is about how Trump and his advisors think about the process, not about how the process actually works.  I think that they have convinced themselves that Republican voters are more prone to abandon the party than they really are, and that they have done so based on disunity at the elite level (e.g. George Will).  As a result, they have made a decision that seems rational, but overstates the problem of disunity at the mass level.

Republican voters will stick with Trump, for the most part.  I suspect that Trump's bigger problems will be with that thin sliver of true independents, and high levels of mobilization of Latinos based on his immigration-based campaign.  Those will be HRC's bigger assets, and Trump's bigger liabilities.  A vice presidential pick couldn't help that anyway because, as I said, vice presidential picks just don't matter very much.

I couldn't fit all that in my piece at The Conversation.  They wanted it within 800 words.  Here, I have no one to edit me, so I can say whatever the hell I want.  Also, I can say "hell."

And I really tried not to say, "pick a peck of pickled Pence," but I just couldn't resist any longer...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How much credit do I get if Trump picks Pence?

The political world seems to be converging around the idea that Trump is likely to pick Mike Pence as his running mate.  As my very, very few readers know, that's who I picked as Trump's running mate.  On April 10.  Here's the link.

My reasoning was pretty simple.  Trump would need to shore up support from the Republican establishment crowd that didn't trust him to govern intelligently or conservatively.  So, as a condition for not blocking him at the convention, they would stick him with a Cheney-type with solid conservative credentials and governing experience who would both tow the party line and not do anything stupid, like breach the debt ceiling.  That all pointed to one name for me:  Mike Pence.

And here we are.  Trump still hasn't shorn up support.  The party isn't unified.  There was even noise about freeing up the delegates to vote their consciences at the convention.  The solution?  Pence.

It certainly seems to me like I called it way back in April.

But if you are actually reading this pretentious little blog of mine, you want more social science, so here it is.  Philip E. Tetlock, Expert Political Judgment.  Great book.  It's all about how we make predictions why most of us, particularly in political science, suck at it, and what we do when they go wrong.

Right now, the betting markets give Pence just over a 50% chance of getting the VP nod.  Better than anyone else, but still hardly a certainty.  I could still be wrong!  What if Pence doesn't get the nod?  Here's where Tetlock comes in.  Could I claim to have been "almost right," or, "wrong for the right reasons?"

Maybe.  Given that I made my prediction in April, and given the field of choices, I'd say for Pence to be this close at this point, I did pretty damned well.  Now, close only counts in horseshoes and nuclear weapons, but let's call this one a game of horseshoes.  Also, my reasoning looks sound.  Trump is considering Pence because he is still shaky with the party establishment and the conservative movement.  Pence is the solution to both problems.  The other two main contenders:  Gingrich and Christie, are just Trump looking for kindred spirits.

So, yes, I'd say my Pence pick on April 10 was a pretty good one.  My reasoning was correct, and given how far in advance I made the pick, the fact that he is where he is today shows some pretty good foresight.  Did you know who Mike Pence was on April 10?

Then again, maybe he'll pick Gary Busey.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Political world scandalized that Ruth Bader Ginsburg admits she's a Democrat. Also, there's no Santa.

Yes, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has criticized Donald Trump and effectively endorsed Hillary Clinton.  Critics, left and right, say that she has compromised her own integrity and that of the entire Judiciary, which is supposed to be independent and impartial.

I have lost no respect for her or the Judiciary.  I never had any to lose.

Political science time!  Justices like to pretend that they have no political ideologies, or at least none that influence their behavior on the bench.  They simply follow the law and the Constitution.  It's those other assholes who insert their own biases into their rulings.  In political science, we have "the attitudinal model."  The attitudinal model is the notion that judges are basically just conventional political ideologues in silly costumes.  They rule in ways that are heavily influenced by their ideologies, and construct rationalizations for their preferred outcomes that consist of legalese, but the explanations they give for their rulings are rationalizations, not the real reasons.  On abortion, Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer and Kennedy have an ideological preference for abortion remaining at least partially legal, so regardless of the fact that the Constitution doesn't mention it, they will find it in a right to privacy.  Thomas, Roberts and Alito are ideologically opposed to abortion, so they are disinclined to look for a right to abortion when it isn't mentioned in the Constitution.  According to the attitudinal model, everything else is bullshit.  Beliefs about the constitutionality of abortion, even among Supreme Court Justices, are determined by ideological preferences over whether or not it should be legal.

In case you can't tell, I'm pretty much an attitudinalist.

The tricky thing is that while congressional voting looks very ideological, Supreme Court voting looks less ideological overall.  Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal developed the NOMINATE score, which measures congressional ideology based on roll call votes.  Those scores explain congressional behavior very well.  Try to use the same algorithm to measure Supreme Court ideology and it is messier.  Why?  The agenda is messier.  Most of the time, SCOTUS isn't dealing with abortion, Obamacare, etc.  Mostly, they deal with minor, technical shit that nobody except a few lawyers with sticks up their asses the size of the Washington Monument care about.  That isn't conducive to ideological voting.  On abortion and other ideological stuff, we know pretty well how Supreme Court Justices will vote most of the time.  Why?  Because they are politicians.  Will they surprise us some of the time?  Sure.  See:  Roberts on Obamacare.  But, those are the anomalies.  They surprise us because they break so dramatically from regular patterns.

Yup, I'm an attitudinalist.

And so is every president and senator.  That's why the confirmation process is so thoroughly fucked.  Sen. McConnell immediately announced his intention to block any nominee by Obama to replace Scalia because everybody involved thinks that everybody on the court is a conventional political ideologue.  Everybody involved is secretly an attitudinalist.

Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor are Democrats.  They will be voting for HRC.  Roberts, Alito and Thomas are Republicans.  They will grudgingly vote for Trump, and then go shower.  And probably have a stiff drink.  Kennedy will either go that route, except have a few drinks first, or vote third-party.

We all know this.

You're just not supposed to say it publicly.

And that's the rule that Ruth Bader Ginsburg broke.  She revealed a truth that everybody knows but that we all tell ourselves isn't true to make society function.  Supreme Court Justices are partisan politicians.  Clutch those pearls!

Now, go watch Dr. Who, "The Beast Below."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

If you only love American music, you just suck

I think I missed this last week.  Turkey's politics and security are fucked, in case you hadn't been paying attention.  Their music is brilliant.  Neset Ertas is the master of the baglama.  Amazing.  Be honest-- you'd never heard of him before, nor even of the instrument, had you?

Party platforms: What did Sanders win?

Turning back to the Democratic Party, the platform committee met, and Sanders supposedly got what he wanted.  The party platform took a big turn left.  So Sanders got what he originally sought out to achieve, right?  No.

Let's talk briefly about party platforms.  In other countries, they are a big deal.  Specifically, in countries with "proportional representation," they are a big deal.  What does that mean?  It is an electoral rule in which the proportion of the seats a party gets in the legislature is the proportion of the vote it gets.  So, if the Batshit Crazy Party gets 37% of the vote, then the BsCP gets 37% of the seats in the legislature (generally, Parliament, but that's another whole, big thing).  If there are 100 seats in the Parliament, then BsCP puts together a list of 100 names.  Since BsCP wins 37% of the vote, the first 37 names on that list get into Parliament.

Here's the thing:  the specific names on that list, and the order in which they appear, are entirely up to the BsCP.  So, if you want to serve in Parliament under the BsCP label, you are entirely dependent on the good will of the leaders of the BsCP.  Follow their platform, or else.  Deviate by taking a sane position, on any issue, and you're out.

Under those electoral systems, there is a very high degree of party loyalty in legislatures.  Here, party loyalty varies a lot over time, depending on historical circumstances.  Why?  Because party platforms don't bind anyone.  Politicians here are loyal to the party when they ideologically agree with the party, and are disloyal when they don't.  Party platforms don't bind them.  The concessions that the DNC made to Sanders in the platform bind precisely nobody.

And it wouldn't matter if they did.

Right now, HRC looks like she will win.  Nothing is guaranteed, particularly this year, but her 4 to 5 point lead in the polls has been as stable as anything in the year of The Donald, where George Will endorses Hillary Clinton and Superman is dark and gritty.  She will face a Republican House.  That I can tell you, as The Donald would say.  Midterms swing against the president, which adds more opposition to HRC in 2018.  The only way Democrats pick up the House is with a strong midterm against a Republican president.  Now, four terms in a row would be really stretching it, so a Republican comeback in 2020 is highly likely, and a midterm swing against that president in 2022 is within the realm of possibility, which puts a unified Democratic government within reach in 2024.

2024.  So, do we really think that concessions to Sanders in the 2016 platform will have any effect on this extremely hypothetical scenario for 2024?  I had to dig so deep in my own rectum to pull this scenario out that I burned my fingernails off with stomach acid.

Of course, there's also the possibility that Trump wins, and what I have called the burn-it-down theory of reform.  This is really hard to evaluate, but it does depend on Trump winning, and right now, it looks like the winning-est winner who ever won at winning kind of sucks at winning general elections.  We'll see soon, though.  Did anyone notice, though, that his rallies no longer consist primarily of bragging about his poll numbers?  Gee, I wonder why...

Regardless, Sanders got the DNC to move its platform left.  In other words, he won absolutely nothing, which is what he is about to become.

C'mon.  Anyone?  No?  Really?


Monday, July 11, 2016

Checking in on the polls: why you shouldn't ignore the biased polls

Well, time to check in on the polls. Over at RealClearPolitics, HRC still seems to have around a 4 to 5 point lead.  That seems to be pretty stable.   It seems to me I said that this would be a stable campaign long ago.   Like, back in April.  Maybe I actually know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, remember my standard advice.  Look at the polling averages, not any one poll.  Still, let's take a moment to look at the variation.  Scroll down, and you will see a lot!  You will see a bunch with Trump in the lead.  Now, take a moment to notice which organizations did those polls.  Most of the time, the organizations whose polls put Trump ahead are either Fox or Rasmussen.

Take a moment to deal with the shock that Fox's polls are overly optimistic for Republicans.  Breathe.  I know your world view is collapsing, but it will be OK.  I promise.

Now who the fuck is Rasmussen?  That Matt Frewer character from Star Trek: The Next Generation?  Yeah, my sci-fi geekery digs deep.  You probably haven't heard of them before.  I have.  Why?  Because I've been obsessed with this polling shit for years.  And for years, I've seen their polls be overly optimistic towards Republicans.  So let's briefly explore how polls get biased results.

There are two main methods that a poll can have a bias:  sampling bias and the "likely voter screen."

Sampling bias is almost what it sounds like.  We would always like a random sample.  We can never actually get it.  Cell phones, low response rates, all of that crap can make a survey organization's job miserable.  So, they get nonrandom samples, and have to find a way to correct for the bias.  The answer is to weight the sample.  If they oversample one population, then they give that population less weight in the analysis.  If they undersample another, then they give it more weight.  That process is hard, and it is an easy place to insert your own personal biases because there are arguments to be made about the correct weights.

The even harder issue is the likely voter screen.  How do you figure out who is likely to vote?  Stated vote intentions?  Past voting patterns?  Demographics?  Your own assumptions about campaign mobilization?  You begin to see the problems, and how biases can work in.

Different survey organizations have their own assumptions about the correct weighting procedures and the correct likely voter screen.  Those lead to different results, and those results are driven by the organizations' own biases.

So who is right?

WE HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE!  That's why we look at the polling average.  And that's why you don't get to ignore Fox, Rasmussen, or any other poll that you don't like, nor focus on them just because you like them.

One of the most important rules of science is that you don't get to throw out data points just because you don't like them.

I don't care how much you don't like them.

Quit whining.

Data are sacred.

Yes, I mean "are."  Data:  plural, as in, "many."  Datum: singular.

Every polling organization uses different models.  By taking an average, the biases cancel out.  That's the point.  If you throw out the ones whose biases you don't like, you are missing the point.  Yes, Fox and Rasmussen have biased polls.  But, that Reuters poll with Clinton up by 11 is biased too.  The point is that the Rasmussen poll with Trump up by 2 cancels out the Reuters poll with Clinton up by 11, bringing us back to the stable average.

Look at the polling average, not any one poll.  And understand that the biased polls are important too.  They are data.  We need those.